A New Tool Could Make Fingerprint Analysis More Reliable

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Contrary to what many would like to believe, fingerprint evidence isn't all that reliable. Partial prints and smudged prints can be difficult to read, and in the U.S. at least, fingerprint analysis is left to individual interpretation rather than a set of standards outlining what can be considered a match.

That could soon change, though. A statistical tool developed by a Department of Defense analyst is able to take two fingerprints and tell how probable it is that they came from the same person, according to Gizmodo. The software program, called FRStat, was used in a courtroom for the first time in February and is now available to any lab that wants to test it out.

Henry Swofford, of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory at the Department of Defense, spent four years working with statisticians to develop the software. It works by comparing images of the small features of fingerprint minutiae (ridges) against "similarly marked, known matches" in a database. The software is then able to calculate the likelihood that the prints were left by the same individual. A paper outlining the statistical method was published in the journal Forensic Science International.

"I want to strengthen the foundations of our science," Swofford told Gizmodo. "I also want to make sure the evidence is presented in a way that the guilty people are convicted, and the innocent are exonerated."

A 2011 study found a false positive rate of 0.1 percent among fingerprint readings, and there have been numerous high-profile cases of wrongful convictions over the years. In one example, Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Oregon, was arrested in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombing after four experts agreed that his prints matched ones found on a bag at the scene. He was eventually released after that proved to be a mistake.

While FRStat isn't the first technology that attempts to make fingerprint analysis more accurate, it's the first one that has been developed for widespread, practical usage, according to Gizmodo.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Trulia Now Makes Browsing Neighborhoods as Easy as Browsing Homes

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iStock

An online real estate listing can tell you the number of bedrooms, the square footage, and the price of a property, but until you arrive in person, it's hard to know if the location will be a good fit for you. Trulia is looking to tackle that problem with a new Neighborhoods feature, as Fast Company reports, letting you virtually explore your potential home's surroundings before you show up for the tour.

Trulia, a listings site owned by Zillow, already offers all the standard information you would get from any other real estate service. Now, the new Trulia Neighborhoods feature also makes it possible to research various neighborhoods within the app the same way you would research individual houses and apartments.

The Neighborhoods feature includes a slideshow of annotated images of each neighborhood captured by Trulia's team of photographers and videographers. It also has some objective data about the area, like maps of local businesses, as well as first-hand reports from residents. In the "What the Locals Say" section, for instance, you might find that 90 percent of people reported that a neighborhood is quiet, while just 50 percent said it's easy to find parking there. This part also includes personal testimonies from individual users that you can browse by topic, such as "community" or "dog owners." Neighborhoods also allows you to easily access data on schools, safety, and commute times.

Trulia Neighborhoods isn't available for every market yet. For now, you can only take advantage of it if you're house-hunting in one of 300 neighborhoods across five U.S. cities—San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Austin, and Chicago. Trulia plans to expand the feature to more than 1100 neighborhoods by the end of 2018.

[h/t Fast Company]

Watch the Museum of London's Fatberg Sweat and Grow Mold in Real Time

Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images

Unlike most other museums exhibits, the fatberg sample at the Museum of London is constantly changing. The chunk of congealed grease and garbage changes color, sweats, and even produces broods of freshly hatched flies. Now, The Guardian reports that you can stay up-to-date on the fatberg's ever-shifting status by livestreaming it into your home.

On August 14, the Museum of London debuted its live FatCam on its website. The dried-out fat glob in the video is one of the last remaining samples of the Whitechapel fatberg, a 143-ton mass consisting of oil poured down sink drains and city litter that was discovered in London's sewer system in September 2017.

From February 9 to July 1, 2018, the museum displayed the unique artifact under three layers of cases for visitors to see. The object proved difficult to preserve, and curators weren't entirely sure it would make it to the end of its exhibition, let alone survive to see another showing.

The fatberg has since been quarantined in the museum's archives. Rather than alter the fatberg to keep it around as long as possible, the museum has decided to broadcast its gradual demise to the world.

In the month since the sample has been taken off display and placed in a special case, drastic changes have been documented. Yellow pustules have surfaced on the fatberg's exterior—a sign of what conservators have determined is the toxic mold aspergillus. The object likely grew the spores when it was on display and only now have they become visible.

Dangerous mold and other organisms living within the crevices of the fat mounds are some of the reasons why the sample is no longer available to view in person. For a safer and slightly less disgusting view of the fatberg, check out the live stream below.

[h/t The Guardian]

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